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131st Bomb Wing pilots reach 1000 flying hours

Lt. Col. Ken "Willie B" Eaves, 110th Bomb Squadron commander, awards Maj. John "Fokker" Avery, 110th BS chief weapons officer, his 1000 hours patch for attaining the 1000 flying hours milestone in the B-2 bomber, March 19, at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.  Avery joins an elite group of 131st Bomb Wing Missouri Air National Guard pilots: Lt. Col. Michael Means who achieved this milestone almost three years ago while on active duty; Lt. Col. Rhett Binger, Jun 2009; and Maj. Jared Kennish, Oct.2009; (Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison.  RELEASED)

Lt. Col. Ken "Willie B" Eaves, 110th Bomb Squadron commander, awards Maj. John "Fokker" Avery, 110th BS chief weapons officer, his 1000 hours patch for attaining the 1000 flying hours milestone in the B-2 bomber, March 19, at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. Avery joins an elite group of 131st Bomb Wing Missouri Air National Guard pilots: Lt. Col. Michael Means who achieved this milestone almost three years ago while on active duty; Lt. Col. Rhett Binger, Jun 2009; and Maj. Jared Kennish, Oct.2009; (Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison. RELEASED)

A closeup of the 1000 hours flying patch worn by B-2 pilots who have achieved this milestone in flying the B-2 bomber. There are almost 500 pilots who have flown the B-2 Spirit, but only about 30 who have reached 1,000 flying hours.  Four of these elite pilots are 131st Bomb Wing Missouri Air National Guard members at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo:  Lt. Col. Michael Means who achieved this milestone almost three years ago while on active duty; Lt. Col. Rhett Binger, Jun 2009; and Maj. Jared Kennish, Oct.2009; and Maj. John Avery, Mar. 2010. (Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison.  RELEASED)

A closeup of the 1000 hours flying patch worn by B-2 pilots who have achieved this milestone in flying the B-2 bomber. There are almost 500 pilots who have flown the B-2 Spirit, but only about 30 who have reached 1,000 flying hours. Four of these elite pilots are 131st Bomb Wing Missouri Air National Guard members at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo: Lt. Col. Michael Means who achieved this milestone almost three years ago while on active duty; Lt. Col. Rhett Binger, Jun 2009; and Maj. Jared Kennish, Oct.2009; and Maj. John Avery, Mar. 2010. (Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Mary-Dale Amison. RELEASED)

WHITEMAN AFB -- Between the active duty Air Force and Air National Guard personnel, there are almost 500 pilots who have flown the B-2 Spirit, but only 30 who have reached 1,000 flying hours. Four of these elite pilots are Missouri Air National Guard members at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

Lt. Col. Michael Means achieved this milestone almost three years ago while on active duty, but is currently with the Missouri Air National Guard; Lt. Col. Rhett Binger in Jun. 2009; Maj. Jared Kennish in Oct.2009; and Maj. John Avery in Mar. 2010.

"These are just a few of the outstanding folks we've brought from St. Louis or hired in the Ops Group," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Eaves, 110th Bomb Squadron commander.

Colonel Eaves explained, the B-2 pilots can fly anywhere from one to four times per month depending on their specific job. The length of the flights can vary between one to 24 hours at a time, but the average is four hours.

Pilots don't do as many flight hours with the B-2 as they do with other aircraft because of the cost and maintenance that goes into the bomber, and that is one of the reasons not many pilots have reached the 1000 hour mark, added Major Avery, 110th BS chief weapons officer. The majority of the flight hours that he does complete are operational test sorties. He typically flies the B-2 with the latest modifications or equipment to ensure it is ready for combat.

Major Avery previously flew the B-1 Lancer before switching to the B-2. He explained, it is typical of most B-2 pilots to have flown additional aircraft before making the transition, but the B-2 is quite different. With these other bomber aircrafts, like the B-1, you have a crew of personnel to complete all the operations that go along with flying, but with the B-2 the duties are all split between the two pilots.

"With the B-2 you can do everything," said Major Avery. "You're not just flying, but also employing the aircraft, managing weapons and radar and managing formation."

B-2 pilots must go through an initial qualification training course to be able to fly the aircraft. The training includes more than 640 hours of academic and hands-on training.

Major Avery, who is the 30th B-2 pilot to reach the 1000 hour flying mark, is married to Maj. Jennifer Avery who is the first female pilot within the 131st.

Colonel Means is slated to reach 1500 flying hours in the next 12 months and will be only about the 6th pilot to do so. Lt. Col. Mike Pyburn is also slated to reach 1000 flying hours in the near future.

"I'm not sure if you could look across the [Air Force] and find a group of superstars that would rival the 131st Operations Group, 110th Bomb Squadron and 131st Operations Support Flight," said Colonel Eaves. "We had this with the F-15 in St. Louis and we have it in the B-2 at Whiteman. It's been a phenomenal start and will only get better."